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End of No Sugar Project

Today is the last day of my No Sugar project!

Historically, nutrition was on and off a mildly interesting hobby. I’d been on diets that lasted anywhere between two minutes and two days. Before I get into this month’s project allow me to illustrate how much I didn’t think about food until the last few months:

Exhibit A: My parents had to feed me until I was about seven because I simply didn’t want to eat.

Exhibit B: One summer in college, I lived alone off campus, like an adult, for the first time ever. To optimize for economy and walking distance, I ate the same thing everyday:

  1. Breakfast: Honey Nut Cheerios + whole milk
  2. Lunch: The first half of the cheapest possible footlong Subway sandwich – wheat, turkey, all veggies, no cheese, vinegar
  3. Dinner: The second half

Sometimes I would go to the mall on a weekend and get General Tso’s chicken. I lost one pound that summer. I will never eat Subway ever again, but that’s a different story…

Exhibit C: When I stopped working a 9-5 job in 2015, I once again optimized my meals for economy and effort. I tried to get some veggies and some protein into every meal, and I quickly settled into two default meals that I ate almost everyday:

  1. 2 poached eggs + boiled spinach (I didn’t know about spices yet, so these were always plain. Fortunately I like the taste of both!)
  2. A handful of cashews + sauerkraut, if I was too lazy to boil things

In a few months, I had shed the 20 pounds I had gained since late high school.

Exhibit D: I was really into the documentary Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead and tried having juice as one of my meals each day. This lasted about two days at a time. I noticed no effects. I have since come to understand that juicing will not do what most people are going for, but I would still recommend the documentary for inspiration.

So to say that I now truly care about understanding nutrition, through research and self-experiments, is a big deal. I’ve come to see that what we put into our bodies through our five senses, e.g. air, food, lotions, and ideas, literally makes up who we are.

Strategies that worked for me

This month’s No Sugar diet was one of my more successful self-projects, in terms of following through on what I said I would do. I credit these strategies:

1. Announcing my intention to family and friends in multiple socials circles, over multiple channels (blog, facebook, in person). And having a very simple, clear-cut message: “I’m avoiding added sugar for the whole month of January.”

2. Having active support and even passive or polite acceptance from my parents, roommate, friends, and random people I talked to. It’s hard enough to fight my own rebellious mind (“New rules? Challenge accepted.”). If I had to justify myself to others, I probably would have just given in early on.

3. Making a list of what I would and wouldn’t eat that was black-and-white AND intuitive to me. This way, whenever I ran into a new food, I could immediately, without internal discussion, say whether it was in or out.

4. Having an end date (today! :D) This prevented me from trying to reshuffle and optimize my rules endlessly, which I do with pretty much everything else in life.

5. Freezing meals and having fast backup options. I had frequent moments of mild panic about not having anything to eat and literally starving to death right there on the kitchen floor amidst my roommate’s frozen pizzas and Cheez-its. Seriously. I don’t know why we are so frequently afraid of starvation. My go-to lifesavers were nuts, frozen fish, peanut butter, bread, and oatmeal. Cooking on the weekend was time-consuming but very enjoyable.

6. Enjoying life. This is a bit of a passive strategy, but I’m occupied with enough fun activities all day to not worry about food as much. Some activities I did in Jan: class, homework, coaching, psych research, self food research, dance, rock climbing, sauna and hot tub, improv, support group, meditation, assembly planning, parents, friends, massages, house hunting, dating, reading, grad school applications. Ok the last one is mostly not fun. But studying for the GRE has been fun.

Failure cases

That said, I had sugar on several days, especially in the second half of the month. It was almost always at a restaurant, and almost always a savory dish that I was pretty sure had some small amount of sugar in it. I didn’t notice my cravings or other symptoms change whenever I had sugar.

I never had any dessert or primarily sweet food, except once. On Saturday, I went on a date to a fancy donut and ice cream shop, where I was quite impressed that I could visually enjoy but not remotely crave the donuts or ice cream. My date got a donut and hot chocolate, which smelled heavenly (I will definitely be having a hot chocolate tomorrow).

After the date, I went grocery shopping. Kroger was giving out samples of chocolate chip cookies, which didn’t look that great compared to the donuts I saw earlier. But, boy, am I a sucker for free stuff. I grabbed a cookie and took a bite.

Before the No Sugar project I appreciated any quality of free chocolate chip cookie (I mean, come on, it’s chocolate and cookie, and it’s free!). But this one, while it tasted the same as any other mediocre Kroger chocolate chip cookie, it just didn’t register as…happy.

Nevertheless, I persisted. I ate the rest of the cookie, thinking with each bite that maybe this time…

I hope this means that my dopamine-triggered reward circuit for sugar is mostly reset!

Here’s another example that suggests otherwise:

Last Friday night I broke down and had some of my roommate’s leftover spaghetti (the marinara sauce contained sugar). It was by far the most delicious, most pleasurable meal I had had in years. I ate the whole thing, about two meals’ worth for me!

Still, I didn’t experience any symptoms. Maybe my body is really bad at communicating with my conscious mind…

What has changed?

Physically, not much at all (that I can tell). I was going post the “after” measurements and photos, but they’re all pretty much the same! Again, I didn’t have much excess weight or chronic illness to begin with. If I get around to taking photos soon, I will post them.

But I was told by multiple sources that there would be epic poops. I was really looking forward to this, but my poops have been about the same, with some constipation since Day 1 because it’s been dry AF this winter. So I’d say this was the biggest disappointment.

 

What’s next?

More research and more experimenting! I want to do another similar month, but I may include refined carbs in my foods to avoid… I don’t know if I ate more flour and white rice this month than normal or it just feels like it because I was paying more attention, but I think refined carbs were the highest volume of unhealthy food in my diet all month.

After over a month of trying to research and write a post about the biochemistry of fructose, how it sneaks through our overdose alert systems, and how almost 100% of it gets turned into fat, …well, I discovered that the science is actually more systemically complex, more hole-ridden, AND more self-contradictory than that. Oy. I don’t know why I thought I could learn enough biochemistry in one month to plug all the holes in Dr. Lustig’s logic in Sugar: The Bitter Truth.

I now know more about what’s in my body than I imagined existed, and I still can’t tell you conclusively whether fructose is that much worse for you than glucose.

So I will continue to research and carve out some posts around the topic.

In the meantime, if you feel like reading some science, here’s a heavily cited lit review on what happens to fructose in the body. Unfortunately it’s written by two guys who are associated with a global food production corporation, so…yeah. Nutrition is hard.

 

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Week 1 with No Sugar

This post includes the “before” state with photos and measurements taken in the first two days or earlier, as well as my experience so far with eating no added sugar (see previous post where I detailed exactly what I will and won’t eat).

The “Before” State

I’m not expecting any drastic changes, but I know from experience that I’ll wish I had recorded how things were before so I could compare more objectively than using my memory. So here it is!

I don’t have specific result-oriented goals. My main priority is to observe and take note, as much as I can, what does actually change. So here’s a snapshot of how I was before I stopped eating added sugar.

Quantitative State

  • Waist circumference: 34.5 in

    (I measured around the widest part of the waist, not the standard method. I’m more curious about the max protrusion in the front, basically. Hehe protrusion.)

  • Hip circumference: 36.5 in
  • Bust circumference: 35 in

    When I’ve lost weight in the past, I noticed that my boobs disappeared first. I want to see if this happens again, and if the measurements are consistent with my observation.

  • Weight: 134 – 137 lbs in the last several days before Day 1

Below are a few other metrics I’d love to measure, but I don’t have the equipment at hand. These are from my last physical on June 2017:

  • Fat %: 26%
  • HDL: 68
  • LDL + LvDL: 71
  • Blood pressure: 92/60
  • Triglycerides: 71

As you can see, with perhaps the exception of the fat %, I’m pretty healthy, quantitatively. So we probably won’t be seeing any fun, dramatic changes, unfortunately. Or fortunately.

Qualitative state

In rough order of importance:

Energy: I have much less energy than I did before college. Whether this is due to age, life demands, or nutrition, I just don’t like it. The main energy-related factor I’d like to observe during this month is how quickly I get out of bed after I wake up.

Poops: TMI ALERT! Before I started this challenge, I pooped about once daily, no specific time that I can tell, generally pretty good poops, and occasional periods of not so great poops (I’ll just keep the details to myself for now :p). Also, starting maybe less than a decade ago, I’ve been having mild IBS on the first day or two of my period.

Metabolism / circulation(?): Since college, I’ve noticed that I feel much colder than most people, and that my hands, feet, and knees don’t warm up very well. I’m pretty sure I have a slow resting metabolic rate (I had it measured at LifeTime, but the method of removing “outliers” was highly questionable) or poor circulation. My doctor says my thyroid looks normal. I think the change is from a combination of quitting competitive swimming (and replacing it with nothing… I think went to the gym twice in college) and going to college in freezing cold Ithaca, NY.

Skin on face: A bit dry, much fewer acne scars than in college. Zits are seldom, thankfully.

Skin, in general: Pretty smooth and taut. Scars easily, and scars pretty much never go away 😦

Cravings: Mild to moderate cravings for chocolate or carbs, like pasta, pastries, bread, … Comes in waves of a few days, usually before period.

Week 1 Observations

Cravings:

My cravings have been surprisingly mild. The first few days, I continued my habit of walking into the kitchen whenever I had an idle moment, after which I would grab a chocolate or Dove ice cream bar from the freezer. But in the second half of the week, my cravings were pretty much gone.

Several years ago, I took the Science of Willpower class at Stanford, taught by the well-known psychologist Kelly McGonigal (by the way, her TED talk on how our stress isn’t actually killing us is not immediately relevant to this post, but I recommend it anyway!). One point she mentioned off-handedly but never went into was how, for some people, the problem is a weak willpower, and for others it’s strong impulses.

Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out if my inability to follow through on something was because of weak willpower or strong impulses. In this case, with the sugar cravings, I now know it’s not strong impulses. I just lacked a strong “will” in the “willpower” department. I.e. I didn’t have a strong Want. That is, until now, that I’ve announced this project to all my friends. Making your goal public really helps!

Also I love that, because I’ve made sugar such a non-option [by announcing it to everyone and therefore risking their judgment (or at least my own perception of their judgment) if I flake], I’m not stuck in a cost-benefit analysis of implementing a solution to my cravings (yes, this is how I rationalize eating a Dove ice cream bar). My cravings pass by, I can’t do anything about them, and they just move along. I had no idea they were so easy to get rid of!

I still have cravings for salty and meaty stuff though. Also, I hear Week 2 is harder for some people. So…we’ll see!

Headache and nausea: Headaches and nausea are supposed to be common sugar withdrawal symptoms. I’ve had what feels like a normal tension headache since yesterday evening. The only difference is this headache hasn’t gone away. And this morning it was so bad, I started feeling nauseated too. Is that a migraine? This has only happened a couple times, and only in the last few months. Not sure what’s going on.

Meal planning: It’s been a constant mild panic to make sure I have meals ready so I don’t resort of Chick-fil-A. Week 2 will be even harder because of classes. I’ve pre-cooked a few meals, but I don’t always remember to bring them to campus…

Weight: I broke 134 and entered the 133 territory about half a week in. Not too significant, and could be dehydration.

Poops: TMI ALERT! I’ve been weirdly constipated since Day 1. I neither pooped or even felt like I had anything to poop on days 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7. When I did go, it was very dry. On Day 2, I woke up with my lips extremely cracked. I thought it was just super dry outside, but others on no sugar have reported constipation as well. I can neither research nor reason my way to an explanation for this though… Is dehydration a withdrawal symptom? Are my microflora so addicted to sugar that they don’t eat anything else? What’s going on?

Discovering/remember some more exceptions

Some more foods that I CAN have that I didn’t include in the original post:

Lemon or lime juice when cooking

Vinegars that don’t have added sugar in the ingredient label.

This includes apple cider vinegar, which I drink regularly as a tea.

This does not include balsamic vinegar, which has 2400%(!) the amount of sugar as apple cider vinegar.

Unsweetened pea and flax milks

I drink creamy pea milk and use a thinner but likely healthier flax milk (I get both from Kroger) in my oatmeal. Their ingredients don’t list any forms of added sugar that I know of, but they contain “reduced” plants, which is on my NO list, so I’m making an exception and continuing to drink these.

 

A glimpse of Chinese food culture and psychology

Disclaimer: This post is more about my household food culture and less about nutrition. I have no idea if this will be interesting to other people…


I printed and pinned up my list of banned and allowed foods from the last post:

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The two white sheets on the oven — posted where we can all see it!

For the first week of January, I’ll still be staying with my parents, who are mildly enthusiastic about my project and might actually join me in giving up sugar!

I managed to get them interested by mentioning some science on how cutting sugar likely lowers blood pressure and improves the poop experience (although maybe not at first, as the yeasts die off..?), I plan to explain all of this in future posts. So much to write!

While my parents say they’re willing to cut down on sugar, they refuse to throw away or even put into a cupboard the things they supposedly won’t be eating. Dove ice cream bars, Twix bars from Halloween, European chocolates they got for Christmas, Digestives… These are all (except the ice cream) just sitting out on the dining table!

My mom’s logic is that, if she craves it later, it’ll be because she needs the nutrients. #headdesk

However, she seemed thoughtful when I mentioned the “sugar is more addictive than cocaine” studies (though results are questionable) and part of the fundamental attribution error (i.e. we underestimate the effect of environment on our decisions and overestimate our own agency).

Also, this afternoon, after she nagged at my step-dad for snacking on the dining table goodies (a daily occurrence), she allowed that maybe there was something to this hiding food strategy after all, especially for absent-minded men.

I don’t get why she reprimands my dad for snacking and yet insists on keeping food out of the cupboards so we don’t “forget to eat it.” When does she expect us to eat it then??

This afternoon we had our last meal of 2017. It was full of some of my favorite Chinese dishes, but I’ll just describe two of them here. First, the dessert:

Tang Yuan

My parents kindly agreed to have our New Year tangyuan on New Year’s Eve instead of for breakfast on New Year’s Day.

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Tanyuan with black sesame paste

Tang yuan (“soup balls”) is a traditional Chinese dish involving glutinous rice balls, usually filled with black sesame paste, peanut butter paste, or other sweet pastes. The “broth” is sometimes just hot water, but today we had it with jiu niang, a mild rice wine. Sugar AND alcohol! Both on my banned list. Good bye, tang yuan!

I used to be that awful kid who sucked all the paste out and left the empty glutinous, mochi-like shell. I still believe this is the optimal way to eat tang yuan IF one is eating alone. Life is short. Skip the bland parts, right?

Unfortunately, Chinese culture is such that, if I left something edible on my plate, my parents would eat it, to avoid wasting food. And because I don’t want them to eat unhealthy AND unenjoyable foods on my account, I ate all the gross, slimy, bland mochi shells today. And thus we all stored a little more unnecessary fat in our bodies, in the name of not wasting food. Oh, the irrationalities of eating!

Ti Pang Tang

The other dish that I just had to say a final goodbye to was ti pang tang (“pork hock soup”), a traditional dish from my ancestral hometown, Ning Bo (a city south of Shanghai).

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My mommy’s yummy di pang tang (<– Shanghainese pronunciation)

This soup involves super tender pork hock (lower leg areas?) stewed in a broth of dried dates, dried lychees, and sugar. All three of these ingredients are on the banned list, though I can’t help but notice the irony that the pork is the most objectionable ingredient, health- and ethics-wise. But one change at a time!

My mom claims ti pang tang is great for enriching a woman’s blood during her monthly blood-loss fiesta. However, a quick search suggests that the internet has nothing to say on the subject ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ At any rate I associate this dish with winter break ^_^


Tomorrow I will post my “before” state (waist circumference, photos, etc) for the record and an initial overview of why sugar is bad. Oh god, there’s so much to write and research, so overwhelmed!

# of sugary snacks eaten in the process of writing this post: 12. …At least I’m consistent? Although one of those was a bowl of ti pang tang…

No Sugar January

I have a mild to moderate sugar addiction. I love flaky pastries and deep chocolate and anything creamy and sweet. My favorite dessert is what I call “chocolate clay,” a kind of dense mousse or light gianduja, preferably on top of a crumbly peanut butter crust. I don’t know what this dessert is called, but Google had it at their cafes occasionally. If someone knows, please tell me! …After January.

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Also, peanut butter mousse is probably the most underrated dessert.

For all of January 2018, which begins in three days, I will not consume any added sugar. What do I mean by “added sugar”? Most of this post is an outline of EVERY detail of what I will and will not eat. But first, the bigger picture:

My goals for this project

Earlier this year, I watched the viral video “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” and read the less viral but more entertaining book The Year of No Sugar. I highly recommend both of these! Since then I’ve been casually consuming books and videos on nutrition and people’s personal experiences with going off sugar in particular.

I’m not as obsessed with nutrition as, for example, the author of The Year of No Sugar, but I’ve come to realize that nutrition deserves much more research, attention, and effort than I’ve given it so far. So I’m attempting my own humble nutrition experiments, starting with No Sugar January.

My goals for the No Sugar January project:

1. To reset my taste buds and my sugar-eating habits, in order to…

2. Interrupt my addiction to sugar, in order to…

3. Eat less sugar in the long run, in order to…

4. Have a cleaner and healthier body.

My goals for writing publicly about the No Sugar January project:

1. To clarify my understanding of sugar through writing

2. To spread awareness about sugar so that my friends can make more informed choices

3. To try my hand at explaining nutrition, biochemistry, psychology, etc, more systematically and logically and in a more easily digestible way for the average person.

I also want to point out holes where I find them, which most sources just hand wave or gloss over instead of admitting there isn’t enough data or they just don’t know. I haven’t found a single explanation out there that is satisfactory to me, or I’d have just posted a link and been done with it.

4. To motivate myself to stick to the project by letting my friends know I’m doing it! 🙂

What exactly do I mean by “No Sugar”?

I mean no purchasing or eating any foods or drinks–be they store-bought, restaurant-bought, homemade, or offered repeatedly by loving and well-intentioned mom–that contain any of the following:

1. Added FRUCTOSE

Fructose is a toxin that works similarly to alcohol in many ways, according to Dr. Lustig in the video I linked above. I’ll be recreating and piecing together his and others’ logic around this in future posts.

Common additives that contain fructose:

– Table sugar (sucrose)
– Unbleached sugar
– High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
– Maple syrup
– Molasses
– Brown sugar (basically normal sugar with molasses in it)
– Honey
– Organic artisanal locally sourced fair trade touched by an angel cane sugar (and just regular cane sugar)
– Evaporated cane juice
– Confectioner’s sugar
– Coconut ______ (any sweet extract from a coconut)
– Agave (the most fructosiest of them all! More on this in a future post)

– Basically anything sweet that is a concentrated extract from a plant

Brown rice syrup is supposedly “okay” because it releases slowly. But I’m trying to reset my taste buds, so this is also out for now.

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Sucrose is basically glucose (mostly good) and fructose (mostly bad) holding hands. HFCS is similar, but they’re not holding hands. More on this later.

2. Artificial sweeteners

Stevia and sucralose are supposedly safe and recommended for weaning yourself off sugar, but there hasn’t been enough longitudinal research for my comfort. Plus, again, resetting the taste buds here.

3. Fruits that have been “reduced” in any way

This includes fruit juice, dried fruits, jams, jellies, apple chips, coconut chips, coconut flakes, preserves, etc.

I’m avoiding what I call “reduced” fruits (as opposed to “processed” because that word is overloaded) because these methods of reduction make it easy to eat entire orders of magnitude more of the fruit in one sitting.

For example, if I eat a bag of dried apricots, I’ve eaten thirty apricots’ worth of sugar in one sitting (and am probably still craving Cheez-Its), whereas I would never eat thirty actual apricots in one sitting.

4. No alcohol in the form of drinks (technically a reduced fruit, am I right?).

I used the qualifier “in the form of drinks” because that’s the only form I know of where I can ingest significant amounts of sugar. And because I refuse to give up vanilla extract, which is 35% alcohol.

Sweet-related things I CAN have:

1. Whole fruit and smoothies

To my dismay, this year I discovered that most smoothie places add fruit or vegetable juices to their smoothies. Juice is one of the worst forms of sugar, so I would probably have to make my own smoothies. But it’s winter, so probably no smoothies, period.

2. Raisins

Technically a dried fruit. But I’m ok with this exception because I don’t like raisins that much and I only put them in my oatmeal every once in a while. Anything that will get me to eat oatmeal is a plus. More on oatmeal in a future post…

3. Any form of cacao before sugar has been added

This is technically a reduced fruit, but it’s hard to OD on something so bitter. I’m not sure what kind of cacao foods are out there, but I’m excited to find out!

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Cacao powder. Not sure how to use this in recipes yet…

4. “Sugar-free” bread

One of the ingredients of Kroger’s 100% Sugar-Free Whole Wheat Bread is raisin juice concentrate, which “adds a trivial amount of sugar.”

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Liesss!

Oh well, I’m letting myself have this specific bread because I anticipate carb cravings just before my next period, which is due to start right in the middle of the month. Get excited!

5. Dextrose (aka glucose)

Glucose is our energy source. And by “our” I mean pretty much every organism on this planet. I’ll clarify [my understanding of] the biochemistry of glucose, fructose, and other substances in later posts. For now, suffice it to say I have a box of Dextrose powder, and I’m not afraid to use it.

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Got this from a Vietnamese market. Supposedly can be used like sugar, just half as sweet.

I’ll go into much more detail on my reasoning for including or excluding each of these in a future post.


That’s all for now. You should know I cut out many, many paragraphs from this post in an effort to avoid overburdening my well-meaning friends who will surely read my posts to provide moral support 🙂 🙂 🙂

I’m looking forward to writing about some biochemistry, psychology, and personal experiences around this project in the coming weeks as I struggle through this food experiment. Wish me luck!

# of sugary snacks eaten in the process of writing this post: 12

How to change someone for their own damn good, in 6 hard steps

Step 1: I notice that I have an impulse to change someone.

Step 2: I get curious about what values, saboteurs, and other parts of me are being triggered to give me this impulse.

Step 3: I thank this part of me for its service.

Step 4: I consider whether I would like to hold on to this part of me or change it into something else. If the latter, what would serve me better?

Step 5: I create this new part of me through habit changes, practice, etc.

Step 6: I celebrate!

Oh yeah and that other person might change too, maybe because they feel less pressure to defend themselves now. But it’s no longer relevant. Hooray!

An accidental miniature focus experiment (and resulting hypothesis)

At yesterday’s coaching session, I committed to working through a workbook of sorts for one hour.

The good news: I ended up working a little over 2 hours on it today.

The bad news: It took me 6 total hours, from 9:30am to 3:30pm, to complete those 2 hours.

WTF happened??

Around 9:30am, I set a timer for 1 hour and paused it whenever I was interrupted. It went off at 12:15pm. What the heck else was I doing during that time??

  • Had hand flailing, bilingual conversation with cousin about her cold symptoms
  • Bought cold medicine at CVS
  • Cleaned out my inbox (Why today?? Oh, maybe because my final exam was in one of those emails…)
  • Light chatting and Facebooking
  • Lunch

When the timer went off at 12:15, I decided I wanted to finish up the chapter so that I could stay in the same headspace. So out of curiosity, I started the stopwatch, around 12:15, once again pausing it whenever I did something else.

When I finally finished the chapter at 3:30, I glanced at my stopwatch. It said I’d been working for 1 hour. Distractions this time:

  • Evangelical Christians (perhaps I shouldn’t work next to the front windows)
  • Workshop planning with others
  • Moar eating. Moar.
  • …and heavy Facebooking

 

A hypothesis for future experimentation

So my proportion of time spent on the intended task is about 1/3rd. How is that working for me? Hm. I love being flexible. But would I be more effective or enjoy more flow if I focused for longer? The current literature says yes. My own experience is more nuanced.

Oy, I’ve just typed and deleted a myriad of factors, but what it boils down to is this:

According to The Power of Full Engagement, almost everyone works better in sprints, of about 90 minutes, than in a day-long marathon.

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One of my favorite books!

 

However, any metric like that is guaranteed to have a normal curve, and I’m quite sure I’m on the shorter end of this one. I can feel my brain getting slower after half an hour… And I don’t remember ever experiencing it re-energize while continuing the same activity.

So my next experiment will be to take note of the time and switch to something else the instant I feel my mind slowing down. I’m so curious to see what the average time is!

Homesickness

Happy new year’s eve! This has been a year of extremes in living situation and stability.

The Hacker House

Between January and May, I lived in the Mountain View Hacker House. In Silicon Valley, a “hacker house” is basically a euphemism for a hostel-style AirBnB with bunk beds in bedrooms and work tables in the living room, instead of single rooms and couch+TV.

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1. As you can see, the residents of our hacker house were diverse in profession…
2. I put puppy calendar photos up in my first week to help me feel more at home.
3. I wish I’d taken more pictures.

Over the four months, roommates came and went. Most stayed for only a few days, to interview with startup incubators or network with venture capitalists. Others were there for a few months for internships.

I was there because my boyfriend/roommate and I had just broken up, and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to live next.

The Plan

The morning after we broke up, in early January, I jumped out of bed at six in the morning, opened a fresh Google doc, and started brainstorming where I would live next. We’d shed some tears the day before, and the months before… But that morning, I was overwhelmingly excited about my new, vast freedom.

By mid-morning, I had a plan.

First, I would stay at an AirBnB until I finished packing, saying goodbye to everyone and everything, and fulfilling my commitment at the county Suicide and Crisis Hotline, where I had only recently started volunteering.

Then I would spend the rest of 2016 in my parents’ house in Atlanta. Nowadays, when people ask me why I moved to Atlanta, I give a variety of reasons, including that the film industry has basically migrated here and this is the best place for a new film actor.

But that morning, my primary reasoning was that, even in my excitement, I knew the breakup grief would come eventually (and come it did!), and I wanted to mourn with the comfort and safety of being near my family.

This part of the plan will probably go down in my memory as a shining example of my ability to predict myself and plan accordingly.

The next phase of the plan was that, in 2017, if I found that I didn’t like living in Atlanta (which was likely because what the heck was there in Atlanta?), I would start a two-year trip around the world to sample different places and ways of living so that I could decide where I ultimately wanted to live and take root. This was partly inspired by Eat Pray Love (did not enjoy the book, but the spaghetti and the silent meditation in the movie must have hit a chord), partly inspired by the tales of a former classmate who transformed while studying in rural Africa, and partly a manifestation of my lifelong Anglophilia / Europhilia / Hobbitonphilia.

So that was the plan: AirBnB, then Atlanta in 2016, then traveling in 2017-2018.

Iceland

So in late January, I moved into the hacker house. In early March, I went to Iceland to see the northern lights, and also as a mini-experiment in traveling alone. A good friend joined me for the middle part of the trip.

But on the last day, when I was suddenly alone again, I became unbelievably homesick. The streets of Reykjavik were no longer new and exciting, and they weren’t home. I couldn’t even experience comfort vicariously through the people milling about on the streets because almost everyone was a tourist.

My sudden and extreme homesickness was compounded by the fact that there wasn’t an actual home that I was sick forThe hacker house certainly didn’t feel like home yet. And I had mixed feelings about the apartment I’d just left. It was the longest I’d ever live in one place, but it never felt like home because the walls were stark white, with poor sunlight, and I’d never put up decorations because I kept thinking we would find a better apartment soon. My parents’ house where I stayed every winter didn’t really feel like home either because my parents had moved there after I’d left for college.

So I wasn’t just feeling homesick. I was feeling homeless. I was, in fact, homeless. Both physically and emotionally.

Home

I spent the rest of my residence at the hacker house with a constant low-grade panic that is perhaps akin to agoraphobia. It was the feeling of having nowhere to sink my roots in, nothing solid to hold on to, and nowhere to breathe easy and unclench my stomach. As much as I loved my roommates and meeting new people constantly, sharing a room for four months can wear on you.

As I went about my day, every little thing was unfamiliar and therefore significant. The way a leaf fluttered in the wind during my morning walk, what I ordered from the menu at a restaurant, my word choice while journaling… I think that when you’re mildly depressed, every little choice and happenstance has the power to make or break your emotional stability.

In May, I moved back to Atlanta after ten years away. Oddly, I began to feel at home a few days before I’d even left California. Since May the nostalgia for my old apartment in California has come up in short and cathartic bursts of tears. It’s pleasant and entirely different from the previous homesickness because it’s not my background state. I love it here in Atlanta. I’ve scaled back my traveling plans quite a bit and have no intention to move any time soon.

A year ago, I read an ElephantJournal article called All I Really Need is a Good F**k and Someone to Pick Me Up at the Airport (“I love to be met by someone who is genuinely ecstatic to see me”). Lately I’ve found myself picking friends up from the airport. And you know what? It’s a good feeling because it reminds me that I’m already at home.